The new Prime Minister Boris Johnson came into office at the end of July providing a fresh impetus and determination to deliver Brexit by 31st October. During August he engaged with EU leaders, including Chancellor Merkel, President Macron, and Taoiseach Varadkar as well as EU Commission leaders, to commence renewed discussions to overcome the obstacles which had prevented the previous Withdrawal Agreement from getting through Parliament, notably the Irish backstop. He appointed a new Ministerial team and senior negotiators with a mission both to intensify discussions with the EU and to accelerate preparations in the event of no deal being reached.
I was not surprised the Prime Minister announced he would prorogue Parliament, since we are still in the longest Parliamentary session for hundreds of years, with no new Government legislation to consider. It is necessary for a new Prime Minister to have a Queen’s Speech to set out their new legislative programme, which requires prorogation for some days beforehand.
Proroguing for a period including the planned three weeks Conference recess halts probable attempts to recall Parliament to try once more to thwart Brexit. Parliament will not sit for four to seven days fewer than expected.
But this move raised the stakes for the Government this week in two respects:
1. placing even more onus on increasing efforts with the EU to secure an improved deal at the European Council in October, with just enough time to deliver Commons approval for Brexit by end of the month; and
2. stimulating those MPs for whom no-deal Brexit was unconscionable, to devise another Parliamentary procedure to prevent no deal.
Parliament resumed for a momentous week, with the new Prime Minister losing his Commons majority, even with the support of the DUP. So getting any legislation through Parliament will be even more challenging, Brexit measures ever more so.
The Prime Minister confirmed in his statement on the G7 conference that progress on an alternative deal is being made. This was also confirmed to me by other Government Ministers that progress is being made with the EU Commission and member states, working on a deal including measures to avoid disruption.
Those who attended the small protests over prorogation, including in Shrewsbury and Ludlow, were not on the streets when opposition parties abetted by Mr Speaker defied constitutional norms in March and again recently, to wrest the Parliamentary agenda away from Government. They gave the game away in Ludlow by plastering ‘Cancel Brexit’ stickers, demonstrating their real intent.
There was a 384 majority in the House of Commons to invoke Article 50, starting the formal Brexit process. Labour voted for it, but since have used every Parliamentary device to frustrate an agreement with the EU.
Those opposed to Brexit in Parliament again defeated the Government by passing a bill to defer Brexit once again, including 21 Conservative colleagues who had lost the whip. I did not vote for this Bill, since it has the effect of undermining the Prime Minister’s negotiating strategy with the EU, by requiring the Prime Minister to write – in terms drafted in the legislation itself: humiliating as it is – to the EU requesting a further extension in leaving the EU, to a date ultimately decided by the EU itself. This seems to me a capitulation of the UK negotiating position with the EU.
It is hard today to predict whether this will lead to a General Election before or after 31st October, but if the Government cannot command a majority in Parliament this will be the inevitable consequence sooner or later.
I voted for an amendment to the EU Bill which called for a vote on a deal on Monday 21st October following the EU Council, whether a new or the earlier one. If that failed, then no deal would be the default. This amendment did not pass, but it would have forced all Members of Parliament to decide unequivocally whether to leave with or without a deal, which I felt was worth supporting to try to bring matters to a decisive conclusion.
Since the referendum in 2016, I have consistently voted to leave the European Union. I have been a member of the Alternative Arrangements Commission proposing border arrangements to minimise disruption for business and individuals alike, which met again this week in a further effort to help find a solution to the Northern Irish Backstop. I wish to leave with a deal but I shall support the Government in delivering Brexit, which the people voted for.
I have launched a constituency wide survey to gauge my constituents’ opinions on how best to resolve the current impasse, available at: www.tellphilip.com.